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Mr. Enright: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend because it is most irritating to be interrupted from behind. This seems to be the thin end of the wedge. Will deregulation be extended to racing? Will Pontefract be flooded with race meetings, charming though they are? Will there be further gambling in our pubs, with more gaming machines being installed? That seems the direction in which the Government are moving. I hope that my hon. Friend will impress on the Minister the need to put some stop to these damned proposals.
Mr. Howarth: It is never irritating to be interrupted by my hon. Friend, whose useful points are always well made. Horse racing is already permitted six Sundays a year. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I understand that further proposals relating to gaming machines are on their way. Mammon is already at the door. On balance, and subject to the reservations that I expressed, I will support the Bill's Second Reading. I hope that the issues raised by my hon. Friends and me will be addressed in detail as the Bill progresses. We have serious reservations and want them addressed before the measure reaches the statute book.
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Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak early in the debate. I will not detain the House long. I declare an interest, as the Register shows, as joint licensee with my wife of Eoderton hall, which is a hotel and restaurant near Welshpool in Wales. We hold a full licence, so I have experience of the operation of licensing laws. I am also honorary president of the catering industry's liaison council, a trade body in which the industry tries to put forward its views. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. I believe that it has come out of the Government's Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, and for that we should be grateful. I hope that there will be much more deregulation. My hon. Friend the Minister was right to agree that the Bill is one of the early benefits to come from that legislation. When all-day drinking was introduced, we were led to believe that it would be a disaster. We heard, when the Minister was introducing the subject, that it would be a two-week wonder in certain establishments. It probably lasted that long in my part of the world. There were not the disasters that were forecast. The public were responsible and they could be trusted. In many areas, that piece of legislation was not used. The pubs and hotels had a choice whether to open all day, if they wished. The same is true of the proposed legislation. It does not force people to open.
Mr. Couchman: My hon. Friend might like to know that a number of establishments did indeed try all-day opening on weekdays, as a result of the Licensing Act 1988, found that it was not to their benefit or that of their customers and exercised their choice not to open. I am sure that the same will happen with the Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill.
Mr. Hawksley: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the wisdom of giving the licensees and the public the opportunity to show that there is a demand for the services that are offered. I look at the Bill as a correction to an anomaly in many ways, because if one thinks of an hotel in a tourist area, or even an off-licence--I think of my part of the country, where the hotel is, and of the many campers and caravaners who visit the area--one will realise how stupid the present law is. Think of the scene in our local supermarket, which is small and is open on a Sunday--it has been for some time--and which has an off-licence. Imagine a member of the staff trying to explain to a foreign tourist why, at five past three, he or she cannot buy a bottle of wine to take back to the caravan, whereas 10 minutes earlier they were allowed to buy a bottle or a can of beer. It is absolute folly. Even if the tourist understood what was being said--with all due respect, somebody speaking in a Welsh accent to a foreign visitor who hardly speaks any English may have some problems--he or she looks at us as though we are mad. I believe that it highlights the folly of the present situation.
Column 1024Spaniard as though he were mad when the Spaniard tries to explain to him about a siesta, saints' days or the traditions of that country?
Mr. Hawksley: I have never been to Spain and nor has my wife, so that creates a slight problem. I will, perhaps, put it in the context of visits that I have made to France. I never seem to have any problems getting myself a drink in a French establishment whenever I have wanted one, whether or not it was on a Sunday.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I have seen in my local supermarket on a Sunday, where many retired people and students work, customers abusing and being extremely rude to supermarket staff who are trying to close the section where alcoholic drinks are sold. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is sensible, because it will free up and remove that aggression from society which is absolutely unnecessary?
Mr. Hawksley: I have never witnessed that problem, but I can understand it happening and have been told many times that people who serve drinks up until the 3 o'clock deadline have problems when they have closed and people come in and expect to be served. They just do not understand and cannot believe that, in this country and in this day and age, when we have legislated for Sunday trading, we are pursuing that particular policy.
Mr. Beith: Before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away talking about foreign tourists, he might reflect that if those tourists come from Norway and Sweden--as many visitors to my constituency do--they will be quite surprised to discover that they can buy alcohol from an off-licence rather than from a Government monopoly, and indeed that they can buy it at weekends at all.
Mr. Hawksley: I am glad that plenty of tourists visit the right hon. Gentleman's part of the country. The tourist industry is important, and the Bill goes a long way to help it by offering the facilities that are expected by many tourists, if not those from Norway.
I want to deal with two aspects of the Bill in detail. First, why do we go only halfway? Why do we not bring Sunday hours into line with weekday hours? The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) about supermarkets could also cause a slight problem in pubs and off-licences: local residents may be surprised to find that they shut at 10.30 pm rather than 11 pm on Sundays. I hope that the Committee will seriously consider extending opening time by, at any rate, that half hour at the end of the day, because if the same hours do not operate throughout the week people may be confused. I question the advantage of the hours specified in the Bill; indeed, I suggest that there are no advantages.
Mr. Michael Forsyth: Did my hon. Friend's suggestion that pub opening hours should be brought into line with weekday hours apply both to the extra half hour at the end of the day and to morning opening?
Mr. Hawksley: I would prefer to alter the hours at both ends. I appreciate that the Church might object on the grounds that services are still going on at that time of the morning, so I deliberately avoided making the suggestion, but I support the principle. I suspect that, in any event,
Column 1025pubs in areas where many people go to church would not want to open until the service was over, as few people would visit the pub at that time.
My second point concerns clause 3, which deals with restriction orders. I understand the reasons for the orders, which are similar to those in the legislation allowing all-day drinking. I gather that they are intended to deal with possible problems of nuisance, but I question--with some trepidation, as my own licence comes up for renewal at this time of year-- whether we should give magistrates any discretion. I am concerned about the way in which they use that discretion in many cases.
Let me give three examples to show that giving magistrates the power to respond as they wish may result in distortions across the country. Their interpretation of legislation often varies from one area to another, and often does not correspond with what we intended when we introduced the legislation. I hope that the Minister will not suggest that the safeguard lies in the Crown court. Few licensees will be willing to employ lawyers and challenge a magistrate's decision in the Crown court: the process is very expensive for individual licensees.
I know of a court which--under the present system, which enables courts to allow extensions on Sunday afternoons--automatically refuses to allow such extensions, on "special occasion" grounds, to christenings. The court has put its reason in writing: it says that children attend christenings. It is indeed quite likely that there will be children at a christening, but surely a christening is a special occasion. If magistrates say no in one part of the country and yes in another, the discretion that they are given will cause a problem.
My second example relates, I admit, to an application that I made on behalf of a local football club. It was rejected. It was the first time that the Montgomery football club had won the cup--a local cup, I add hurriedly, before anyone forms too high an opinion of what was won. It was by far the greatest day of the club's life, and its members decided to hold a celebratory dinner at the hotel that I own.
When we applied to the magistrates, they said, "That is not a special occasion. You must finish at 11 pm." In fact, as a meal was served, we were able to give members of the club slightly more time in which to drink; but if we had been in the west midlands nearly every magistrates' bench would have allowed a much longer extension. I hope that the Minister will respond in detail to my third example, as I consider it the most serious. If he cannot do so today, perhaps he will do so in writing. We have talked a good deal about the children's certificates that have already been granted under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which have been welcomed by most people as a step forward. I am worried, however. The intention of Parliament and the Minister when the legislation was introduced, as paragraph 12 of the guidelines states, was that the certificates
"should be introduced with the least alteration to the normal operation of pubs concerned".
That is fair enough. We did not want too much of an upheaval, and if someone wanted to apply for a children's certificate that was fine. Now, however, we are noticing inconsistencies. In Devon and Cambridge, for instance, licensees are being told that no smoking should be allowed. Parliament did not ask for, or insist on, such a condition. I suppose that on Friday, when we debate the
Column 1026Tobacco Smoking (Public Places) Bill, Parliament will decide whether to legislate in that important regard; but magistrates are currently taking it on themselves to make it a condition of a pub's certificate that there be no smoking in that pub or in the area to which its certificate relates. I accept that that decision could be challenged in the courts, but that would be expensive.
I am even more concerned by my discovery that the Health Education Authority, a publicly funded body, is writing to magistrates and persuading others to do so. It writes:
"Magistrates can attach such conditions to these certificates as they consider fit."
It asks magistrates to make the no-smoking rule a condition of children's certificates.
We can argue about whether that is right, but I feel that such important decisions should depend on what happens in the House on Friday rather than being left to magistrates. I am particularly worried about the possibility of inconsistency throughout the country: some magistrates will think that the law should be applied as the House intended, while others will go further and try to apply it as they wish it to be applied.
Mr. Couchman: Hon. Members on both sides of the House said at the time of that change in the law last year that they hoped that magistrates would not attach unreasonable conditions to children's certificates. Examples of unreasonable conditions have occurred in Scotland, where children's certificates have been the order of the day for longer than in England and Wales. It was suggested, for example, that high chairs and children's special toilets should be provided. Such conditions are unreasonable. My hon. Friend's comment about pubs that have smoke-free areas and that seek children's certificates are in the same sort of league.
Mr. Hawksley: I agree with my hon. Friend. Some magistrates are imposing the condition that nappy-changing facilities must be provided in both male and female toilets. Parliament never intended that such conditions should be put in place. I am concerned, therefore, that we should not allow magistrates to have discretion, unless we are sure that they will use it wisely.
My hon. Friend's point about Scotland is fair. I gather that, in many parts of Scotland, because of the conditions that are being laid down, quite a few people are not applying for children's certificates. Few applications are being made in some of the larger cities. The reason is not that the licensee does not want children in his premises, or that the public do not want that. It is that licensees know that magistrates will impose conditions that are totally unacceptable to them.
In his winding-up speech, the Minister should deal with the question of magistrates' discretion, which is being abused in the case of children's certificates. Magistrates should trade in their prejudices. I hope that, if the Bill receives a Second Reading tonight, as I believe it will, the Committee will consider in detail the question of magistrates' discretion as outlined in clause 3. It is wrong that the personal prejudices of magistrates should, in any way, be reflected in the discretion that Parliament gives them. In supporting the Bill, I hope that the Committee will consider that important point. I look forward to supporting the Bill in the Division Lobby if necessary.
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Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Magistrates are not exercising personal prejudice if, in taking into account the appropriate conditions for a children's certificate, they have regard to whether conditions in a room pose a danger to children's health. Now that we know the consequences of passive smoking, that would be the case.
I insist that the Liberal Democrat party regards this matter as a free-vote issue, as do the other parties. Hon. Members will no doubt have different views about it. High politics is involved in the issue. After all, the Prime Minister chose to make it the subject of a key announcement in a major speech on 24 January at the Inter-Continental hotel.
I remember the degree of press interest during the early part of the evening, and the number of requests that I had to comment, because Downing street was guiding the press into thinking that a major announcement was to be made. Sure enough, what was that important announcement about? It was about Sunday afternoon licensing. Clearly, therefore, either the Government regard that as a matter of the highest political import, or the Prime Minister was stuck for something favourable to say in one of his many difficult weeks recently.
The Government had a desire to rush the Bill through, possibly taking all its stages in one day. I am glad that they thought better of that idea, and that they are making arrangements to ensure that the Bill is considered properly and in detail. For the Government, the Bill completes an agenda of making Sunday like any other day of the week, but we have not yet assessed the impact of last year's changes in Sunday trading.
We have not seen the effect of those changes, or tested the various propositions that were made about the Sunday Trading Act 1994, partly because, before Christmas, we went through a period that was not unlike the previous Christmas, when so many large retail chains broke the law. Since Christmas, the recession has still been biting fairly deeply. Many city centre retail chains have no great disposition to stay open extensively on Sunday. The Act may be put to the test only in the warmer weather as we approach the season when retail chains must attract more people. We have not yet assessed the Bill's impact, yet the measure will add to it.
The measure is not being taken as part of a general review of licensing and licensing powers. Some of the Bill's supporters, including the Consumers Association, have spoken about the way in which the licensing system now works. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) spoke about that, too. Some of the instructions tabled were on that subject. I am not yet persuaded by their arguments. I am still happy for magistrates to exercise discretion and to receive advice from the police on disorder problems that they might expect, or difficulties that are associated with particular licensed premises.
Some people argue that this matter should be dealt with by the planning system, which is more a appropriate system through which to decide whether a premise's long opening hours are an intrusion, for example, on a residential area. It might have been more appropriate, therefore, to consider the extensions as part of a general review of licensing legislation, especially as the Bill effectively gives magistrates important discretion to
Column 1028reimpose the existing Sunday afternoon closing periods if, in their view, it is necessary for reasons of disorder or anything of that sort.
It is not clear from reading the Bill whether the restriction order that magistrates impose will be peculiar to one set of premises, or to several sets of premises in a given area, but that is an important discretion. The Minister has attached importance to it. Again, it makes one think that the matter should be considered in the context of a more general review of how the licensing laws work.
Perhaps the most important problem in relation to the Bill, and the biggest anxiety that I have about it, is its total lack of staff protection. Last year, the Government were forced to include protection for staff in the Sunday trading legislation because of pressure from hon. Members. To many of us, however, that protection was inadequate. In the main, the protection was for existing staff. The Bill, however, contains no element of protection for people who are in a demanding trade and whose ability to have time with their families on Sunday afternoons is being taken away.
I think especially of the effect on licensed house managers and pub staff, but the matter also affects quite a lot of licensees. Some licensees are in favour of the change; others are against it. It will, however, have a powerful effect on the family life of people who cannot afford to employ someone else to do their job on Sunday afternoons. They will lose trade if other premises stay open for the whole afternoon and people choose to go there rather than to a pub that will close.
Peter Love, general secretary of the National Association of Licensed House Managers, said:
"This government seems intent on introducing Sunday opening without any consultation.
The inclusion of Christmas day and Good Friday in these proposals further destroys the family and social life of public house managers."
No protection exists for people who work in the licensed trade. Their freedom is at stake. The Minister sought to cast the Bill in terms of the freedom that it would give to people. Whenever he does that, however, he ignores the freedom of people who work in the trade to have some time on Sundays with their families and to themselves. He offers them no assistance in securing that time.
I shall declare a small interest as someone who contributes regularly to the Clubs Journal . My impression is that not much call exists for the change among traditional clubs, but that some of them will feel pressured into Sunday afternoon opening in order not to lose customers to pubs. The Minister said that the Bill would "call time" on Sunday afternoon closures, but what if premises do not want to open and are pressured into doing so because of the competition? People responsible for the management of a club have to have regard to its viability. That has been difficult to sustain, especially during the long period of recession. Clubs will not necessarily be able to gamble that they can keep their present trade if pubs in the immediate vicinity open for longer periods. There may not be much choice for them.
One prominent leader of the club movement said to me:
"I don't believe our members will want this. It goes against our tradition of supporting families."
Column 1029Generally, I do not detect in the club movement any desire for a change of this sort.
Greater pressure for change exists in the retail trade and especially among the supermarket chains. I sought to establish from the Minister what precisely was the position with Christmas day when it falls on a Sunday. I am still not sure that that has been made clear. What happens about Easter Sundays?
There should be no doubt that the recent Sunday trading legislation does not allow for large supermarkets to open on Easter Sundays or Christmas day when it falls on a Sunday. The Bill appears to remove the constraint on the selling of alcohol on those days, but it is not clear how the two pieces of legislation are to interact. It might be possible for a new anomaly to be created deliberately in an attempt to drive another wedge into the law. Some supermarkets might open for the permitted alcohol sales period but then claim that there is an anomaly because their customers can buy alcohol but not groceries. One can imagine the exercise in which they will then become engaged--the very reverse of what they did before. Supermarkets are experienced in public relations and are adept at pursuing their own interests, so let us make it clear that the exemptions applicable when Christmas day falls on a Sunday and on Easter Sunday are to remain.
Mr. Couchman: The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we were on opposite sides of the Sunday trading argument, but that we were in the same Lobby when debating Christmas day and Easter. I would be equally unhappy if the Bill were used as a wedge to enable supermarkets to open on Christmas day or on Easter Sunday.
Mr. Beith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He reflects the views of many hon. Members who favoured more general opening on Sundays but wanted to afford special protection to those two days. However, that leads me to ask why pub Sunday opening hours on Christmas day and Good Friday are included in the Bill.
Christmas day strikes me as especially difficult for those who work in the licensed trade. We should remember that, for licensees and pub managers, the pub is their home. Their only chance of having some peace on Christmas day to enjoy with their families is when the doors are closed and the customers have gone to their own Christmas dinners. They can then have a little peace and quiet in the place which is their place of work and their home. I am surprised that the Government have hooked Christmas day into this exercise, which is supposedly about Sundays. We should consider during the Bill's later stages whether to take Christmas day out of the Bill.
I have already mentioned the discretion afforded to magistrates. It is important that we know how clause 3 will work and in what circumstances the Government envisage that magistrates will place restriction orders and reimpose Sunday closing. For example, will those circumstances extend to circumstances in which people who live near pubs experience a great deal of disturbance on Sunday afternoons? I am not talking about real disorder.
The Minister made it clear that if there is persistent disorder as a result of Sunday afternoon opening in a particular locality, he would expect it to be brought to the attention of magistrates and for them to take it seriously. However, most people experience milder disturbance. Some pubs are situated in residential areas. As happens
Column 1030with Sunday trading, the Bill could mean cars coming and going and doors banging all afternoon. Residents would lose the peace that they want on a Sunday afternoon and some of their liberty would be lost. Will the magistrates' powers be interpreted strictly to cover gross abuse of the Sunday opening provisions, or will they take into account what is perhaps more of a planning argument about whether it is appropriate that a particular activity should continue at all hours of the day and night in a residential area?
The Bill has support from various quarters. It is supported by the Campaign for Real Ale, the Consumers Association, brewers and some people in the tourist trade. It is a limited addition to the changes already made, but I do not detect a great groundswell of opinion among people who feel that this is an important step that should be taken now. The desire to rush the Bill through without proper consultation and without its being examined in the context of licensing law more generally could lead to our passing inappropriate legislation. I do not believe that it has been the subject of adequate consultation. It could have been dealt with much better as part of a wider review. That is the advice that I offer to hon. Members as they consider it now.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Before doing so, I should like to declare a residual interest in the licensed trade. Until 31 October last year, my family had been involved in the trade for 100 years. Until that point, I and my wife ran a small family company operating seven public houses in London, of which I was the joint licensee with my managers. On 31 October, my family's public house operating company was disposed of to another small company. Thus, my very long direct connection with the trade came to an end. I remain for one year, and for one year only, a non-executive director of that company, so I have a vestigial interest.
I was recently elected vice-chairman of the parliamentary beer club which now has, I think, 160 members and may be rivalling the clubs all-party group for the title of largest group in the House. It is, of course, a non- remunerated position, and Madam Speaker is our president.
I shall retain my interest in this important sector of the leisure industry. I must disagree a little with my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) about magistrates. After 25 years of appearing in magistrates courts for licence changes, transfers and brewster sessions, I have no quibble with the way in which magistrates go about their interests. In that connection, I should add that my wife has served as a magistrate for slightly longer than I have served in the House, so hon. Members will understand my reason for agreeing with magistrates.
Mr. Hawksley: Does my hon. Friend accept that there are inconsistencies in magistrates' decisions and that it can create problems when different benches make different decisions, especially as the House believed that it was legislating in a particular way?
Column 1031licensing benches will be mindful of the different conditions in their areas. It is a difficult issue but we do not want the magistracy to become a rubber stamp. We must therefore allow magistrates to exercise their duties as they see fit. However, perhaps the Home Office could issue guidance in respect of the vexed question of whether the issuing of children's certificates is being constrained by magistrates exercising their discretion in a perverse way. I shall not say too much more about that, but it is worthy of consideration in Committee.
In response to the comments of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), let me say that I do not agree that there is any relation between the Bill and last year's Sunday trading legislation, except in so far as supermarkets are affected. Clearly, an anomaly was created last year when supermarkets were allowed to open for six hours between 10 am and 4 pm on Sundays, although their off-license sections were restricted to opening between noon and 3 pm.
We have lately heard a good deal about the problems confronting the pub trade and off-licenses, especially in respect of the damage being done by the legal importation of duty-paid beer, wines and spirits and illicit liquor sales by bootleggers. There is no doubt that some of the latter trade seems to be organised by gangs of criminal who are driving a coach and horses through the single market provisions, bringing in large quantities of duty-paid liquor from France where the duty is much lower.
Mr. Couchman: If the hon. Gentleman had come into one of my pubs last year and ordered a pint of beer, he would have enjoyed certain facilities, service and the appointment of the premises. If he entered that pub and bought an orange juice or a lemonade, he would enjoy precisely the same facilities. Pubs sell not only drinks but a service that involves the sale of a drink. Indeed, the retail profit made on the sale of orange or tomato juice is not unreasonable when compared with the profit on a pint of beer. Opposition Members have always got that wrong. I accept that when soft drinks are purchased in an off-licence, there is room for lower prices, but it is different where the on-licensee must take into account the provision of his services and the payment of rents, which have risen tremendously in recent years.
I was discussing the importation of duty-paid liquor and bootlegging activities. Last week, Customs and Excise gave the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, figures to April 1994 in volume 12 of the 1993-94 appropriation accounts, paragraphs 24-30. They suggest that the Treasury receipts on alcohol and tobacco during 1993-94 fell short by some £200 million compared with the figures for 1992-93, which were already short by a fair margin. We can only estimate the extent of illegal bootlegging, but it may account for a further shortfall of some £35 million. The loss to the retail trade will be several times that sum and may reach as much as £1 billion. That is a huge loss of retail trade to the on-licence and off-licence trade.
Column 1032There is a tendency to blame that serious blow to profits and jobs in the industry on my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His perverse refusal to narrow the gap between United Kingdom and particularly French rates of duty has contributed to the continuing recession in the licensed trade and it will be a long time before he is forgiven for his change of heart between the November and December 1994 Budgets. However, I believe that the reasons for the continuing mediocre trade, particularly in London and the south-east, are far more complex than simply a loss of trade caused by the importation of liquor from France.
Drinking habits have changed, even in the 25 years that I have been involved with the public house trade. Let me offer a few examples of why our nation now drinks less. Lunchtime drinking--the traditional pint and a sandwich or shepherd's pie--is now frowned on by many employers, who are intent on getting the same level of concentration in the afternoon as in the morning. Many Irish workers in the building industry who went home during the recession now return to find that health and safety rule supreme on the building site, and any hint of drinking will lead to instant dismissal. No one can disagree with that on safety grounds, but building workers have traditionally been an important source of income to the publican. Another example of that practice which, again, one fully understands, is British Rail's setting of a zero limit for its random breath testing of all grades of staff, day or night. Effectively, that means that British Rail employees cannot drink at any time of the working week because of the time that it takes for the body to discharge alcohol. The pub probably no longer represents the warm and comfortable haven from unwelcoming homes that it did in the past. That is certainly the case for many of our citizens. Contrary to the lager lout image of the minority, young people are much less inclined to drink, particularly when driving, than, dare I say, their parents. If they go to all-night raves, they accompany the illicit substances that they take with water, not alcohol.
The recession has been bad for pubs and the recovery is still elusive for most of them. Pessimists, and I include myself, doubt whether the trade will ever recapture the good days of the mid-1970s and late-1980s. Small traditional pubs in a secondary position, for which catering is unlikely to be more than a small part of their business, have been particularly hard hit by the recession and the fact that strong, usually brewery-managed catering pubs offer much greater facilities.
Pubs for which catering is a major part of their business can already open during Sunday afternoons. As a result of the 1988 Act, it became possible for pubs that provide substantial food to continue to serve food and drink throughout the afternoon break. That led to an unlevel playing field because small, traditional pubs for which food was a much smaller part of their business and which provided much simpler food did not qualify. That alone is a good reason why the House should give the Bill a Second Reading today.
Pubs that cannot open on Sunday afternoons are prevented from showing their customers football matches on BSkyB on Sunday afternoons. Many people would like to stay in the pub to watch such matches on television on Sunday afternoons. I agree with the wise words that appeared in The Licensee and Morning Advertiser , the
Column 1033trade paper, on 2 February this year. Mr. Terry Oates, president of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations, said:
"To show Sky TV, landlords have to pay an extra charge compared to residential users. At the moment Sunday hours require them to close when its main attraction, football coverage, begins.
The government, along with the federation, is trying to make visiting a pub more family-orientated. Relaxing Sunday hours would allow better trading on what is seen as a day for families." Mr. Oates has got that right.
It is interesting to note that all-day opening will not be compulsory, according to Mr. Oates--he seems to know--and he will not open all day. However, many members of his federation have wanted all-day opening for some time and have been urging the Government to make those changes for the past 18 months. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge said, that will be particularly important for pubs in tourist areas.
The Bill will act as a lifeline for small, traditional British pubs and I shall certainly support it in the Lobby. So long as the landlord, whether or not he is a brewer, is not allowed to insist on Sunday afternoon opening and resists the temptation to increase rents in recognition of a supposed new trading opportunity, as the jargon goes, Sundays may once again become a good trading day for traditional pubs. I am sure that few hon. Members, whatever their feelings about drink and drinking, would welcome the death of the British public house, which is unique in the world.
As I listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister speak to the British Retail Consortium on 24 January and announce his intention to introduce the Bill swiftly, I thought back to my days in a large south London pub, with a disco and functions suite, which I managed for four years. I remembered just how precious was the Sunday afternoon break as an assured break once a week and wondered whether I should support the Bill, but then I remembered how good trade was at that time, even without Sunday opening.
The House should not stand between a publican and his customers during Sunday afternoons. If I have a complaint, it is that opening time will remain at noon because the best advantage that small, traditional pubs could gain in changing to Sunday hours would be to bring forward opening times from noon to 11 o'clock. My suggestion will no doubt bring howls of derision from certain Opposition Members and will be fought by those who still see that as a conflict with church-going.
However, people who go to those small pubs frequently go home for lunch, so they will not derive great benefits from the proposed opening hours. They would have derived greater benefit from an earlier opening time that made the 11 o'clock opening standard throughout the week. I recognise that that will have to wait and that those darts club committee meetings that are scheduled to start at 11 am on a Sunday will have to wait some time before they are legitimised.
Since I came to the House in 1983, we have had many debates on our obsolete licensing laws. In common with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), I am a veteran of the Licensing Act 1988. I made one of my first major speeches during the debate on the Consolidated Fund at Christmas 1983, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and I debated our licensing laws at some length at 7 o'clock in the
Column 1034morning. We both decided that our time would probably have been better spent down in one of the early houses at Smithfield market. Since 1983, I have taken part in most of the debates on our licensing law and the Bill is at least the third piecemeal reform of it since then. Today, we should be discussing a more radical change in the law, for example, a later terminal hour for Fridays and Saturdays, which is one of the trade's great requirements and on which it has been consulted, and the question of dual licensing. In that case, people who manage a pub might have a licence of one type whereas the premises could be subject to another type of licence. Should a licensee disappear all of a sudden, that would avoid an immediate crisis over the licence of the premises.
Like Terry Oates, I welcome the Bill, however limited it is. British pubs are still in grave danger and it behoves the House to support them. That support is offered by the Bill.
To those who think that the Bill is another step on the road to damnation, let me assure them that, in the past, we were told just that not only by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), but by Lord Braine, then my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. He was apoplectic at the prospect of doing away with the afternoon break during week days. Of course he was proved wrong, as was the hon. Member for Swansea, East, because a more civilised drinking pattern has followed the abolition of that afternoon week day break. I believe that its abolition has been of great benefit, particularly to older people who like to go out for a drink, who wanted to extend their lunchtime drinking to perhaps four and five o'clock in the afternoon and then to go home and not come out again. They do not feel comfortable coming out at night and prefer to stay in, in front of the television, but they enjoy the sociability and friendship of the pub during the afternoon for a longer time than was once allowed.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister has told the House, little increase in drunkenness or crime has arisen out of the changes brought about by the Licensing Act 1988. I am certain that the Bill will have a similar civilising effect and I hope that the House will give it an unopposed Second Reading.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Before I reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and his remarks about damnation, I should pay tribute to the former right hon. Member for Castle Point, now Lord Braine. I recall that when his colleagues gave a litany of their interests in the trade, he would declare but a general interest. I believe that he made a signal contribution to the debates on licensing matters. He is sorely missed. Alas, attendance in the House today is thin, but when he spoke he always attracted a goodly attendance.
The hon. Member for Gillingham illustrated part of our problem with creeping incrementalism. As he said, we are veterans of the debates in 1988. At that time, he justified the changes to the licensing laws by using the housemaid's argument that the changes went only as far as we wanted to go and that it was only a little baby. He told the House:
"I should have preferred Sunday lunchtime to be extended from 11 o'clock to 3 o'clock"--
Column 1035to be fair, he advocated that 11 o'clock opening today as well-- "but if it is to be extended from midday until 3 o'clock I do not believe that the question of licensing hours will return to the House for quite a long time . . . it will remove the licensing issue from this House for probably a decade. If"--
this is the key point--
"the extension had been from 11 o'clock to 3 o'clock, I suspect that it would probably have removed it for all time."--[ Official Report , 27 April 1988; Vol. 132, c. 454.]
Now, perhaps because of the possibility of watching Sky television or other cogent arguments that the hon. Gentleman adduced, he believes that the missing incremental gap should be removed. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the advantages of extended licensed hours to elderly people. That is rather like the argument that one hears from Conservative Members about those elderly ladies on fixed incomes in Cheltenham, when hiding behind those ladies are the larger vested interests that those Members represent. The evidence from the Scottish precedent following the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 and, as far as we can judge, from the Licensing Act 1988, which covers England and Wales, suggests that those who have taken greatest advantage of the liberalisation provisions have not been elderly folk, but younger folk under the age of 35 and the heavy drinkers. If the damnation predicted by the former right hon. Member for Castle Point has not been visited upon society, that has nothing to do with the civilising effects of liberalisation, but rather the recession. If the hon. Member for Gillingham and others believe that the Government's policies will lead to greater national wealth, that, in itself, will lead to greater consumption. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me that the key determinant of consumption is not wealth.